Design Thinking and Social Change

E. E. Cummings wrote:

In 2008, ASB hosted our first Un-Plugged Conference. The conference was born with a two-fold purpose:

  • To showcase, to the world, the ways in which ASB integrates technology into the learning process of our students
  • To engage ASB’s educators in a conversation about the relevant trends and evolutions in education with a global community

Initially, we hosted an Un-Plugged every other year. Our 2008 conference had 93 visitors from 12 other schools. The conference quickly evolved into one of the premier educational conferences in the world. By 2014, we had 500 visitors from over 50 schools and educational organizations. Two years ago, we realized that the evolution of education was not willing to wait two years for us to gather and conference about it. So, we began what we call our “Un-Plugged Impact Series.”

The purpose of this new, but much smaller conference (held in odd numbered years), is for the ASB community, without a large group of outsiders, to delve into a single, specific, educational topic that we feel is current, urgent and important to our reality. In 2013 our topic was Learning and the Brain.

This year’s ASB Unplugged Impact Series conference (Day 1 and Day 2) is focused on Design Thinking. In its simplest form, Design Thinking (DT) is a process of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems through the following six stages: empathy, define, ideate, prototype, feedback, and reflect.

The objectives of our DT conference were:

  • To learn the DT process in a practical, hands-on, and deeply authentic environment
  • To explore ways in which the DT process can be applied to our context to enhance student learning

In order for us to apply DT authentically and relevantly, we invited 17 social entrepreneurs to bring their most “wicked” problems to the conference, and together we spent two days generating, prototyping and testing solutions.

Here are a few of the “areas of social involvement” that our entrepreneurs are coming from:

  • Public Sanitation
  • Paper versus Plastic
  • Urban Farming
  • Sex Trafficking
  • Dung to Paper and Other Products
  • Garbage Collection
  • Sustainable Rural Life
  • Survival of Handicrafts

Based on what I heard during the conference, I would say that the most common challenge that our entrepreneurs are striving to solve is: dreams becoming limited and obstructed by politics and culture. The four most obvious characteristics of the “politics and culture that are creating obstacles” seemed to be:

  1. Gender inequality
  2. Distrust of social movements
  3. The disparity between India’s “poor” and “very poor”
  4. Deep-seated classism

We are partnering with these social entrepreneurs in the hopes of living our Mission:

  • Inspiring while being inspired
  • Thinking courageously, optimistically, and with integrity
  • Dreaming big and chasing dreams and
  • Having our lives enhanced whilst enhancing the lives of others.

We, individually and collectively, did a lot of “inquiry,” an ASB attribute that many of us consider the core of what we do as a school. In Warren Berger’s book: A More Beautiful Question, he talks about these questions:

  • Why?
  • What if?
  • And How?

These are the questions ASB’s 200 educators tackled in regards to social issues in Mumbai and India. Asking these questions will not stop after the conference. ASB will remain committed to these social efforts and to these questions all day, every day.

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